Home > The Proposition: The Ferro Family(5)

The Proposition: The Ferro Family(5)
Author: H.M. Ward

I can’t argue that. It’s basically a piece of loose leaf with a typewriter font plastered across the blue lines. “It required zero computer skills, okay. Besides, no one was supposed to read it.”

“Then, what’d you put it out there for?”

Good question and the truth is more of a gut feeling than a cognitive thought. Sometimes I write for me and that’s enough. This time it wasn’t. This time I wrote about love and loss, pain and death, but just having it on my computer wasn’t enough. It felt like holding a caged bird in the palm of my hand. There was something freeing about pressing publish. It was cathartic, no matter what Neil says.

Getting up from the computer, I pull my hair into a ponytail and walk across the living room. “I don’t know how to say it.”

“Try me.” She turns around, but doesn’t stand up.

Avoiding her gaze, I grab a coffee mug and try to put the feelings to words. “It’s everything bad that happened, and it was trapped inside me with little bright spots of good. For some reason they kept crashing into each other. I didn’t ask why or read anything into it. Pressing publish was like writing a letter and dropping it off the Empire State Building. In theory someone might read it, but odds are it’ll be trash underfoot that no one will ever see. I don’t know. Maybe I’m mental.”

Maggie shakes her head. “Nah, you’re not mental, and ignore Neil if he doesn’t get it. Just because he’s a wannabe shrink doesn’t mean he has the magical power to see inside your heart. Plus, the heart and the head aren’t always going the same direction, if you know what I mean. Grief does things to a person.” Maggie sucks in a shaky breath and forces a smile.

Her life has sucked and somehow she sits here and manages to smile, but my face feels like it’s going to crack when the corners of my mouth lift. I don’t know how she does it. No one except me cares about her, she has no family, and was bounced around from one foster home to another until she was old enough to leave. She’s broke, but she tries so hard. Right now she works at some bar and the tips are good, but I worry about her.

We were in the same foster home until my Dad adopted me when I was in third grade. Maggie got left behind, but I still saw her in school. Unlike the rest of the kids in that house, she managed to stay put. As for me, my mother liked her**ne more than food. Child Protective Services found me when I was five years old, hiding in the bottom of a closet while she was doing god-knows-what.

That period of my life is covered in shadows like a nightmare. I can’t remember which things really happened and which were nightmares. While the events don’t stand out much, the emotional distress from that time is still vivid. Gut-wrenching fear owned my little body back then. My young eyes had seen things that no child should ever see. After that, I spent a few years in foster homes until Dad adopted me. I was one of the lucky kids. Maggie wasn’t so lucky.

I’m still nervous and stir the spoon around in my cup. What will people think of me when they read this? I know I shouldn’t care, but I do, a little. Glancing up at her, I ask timidly, “You don’t think I’m mental for publishing something that I didn’t want people to see?”

“Nah.” She waves me off and leans back in her chair. “You’re more likely to fall down a sinkhole.”

I laugh. “A sinkhole?”

“Yeah. I watch the news. Sinkholes are the new threat. Well, sink holes and bears, but let’s face it—there are no bears running up and down Sunrise Highway, so I think we’re safe.” She grins at me. “But when you become a big shot and live in a palace in California, watch out, because they have both.” She makes a roaring sound and swats at me.

“You’re a dork.” The smile doesn’t feel forced this time. She actually has me laughing again.

“So, what are you going to buy?”

“Nothing yet. I don’t have this money and for all I know I might not get a cent. Right now I’m still butt poor.”

She holds up a fist for me, and I bump mine against hers. “Welcome to the club. We work twice as hard and get nowhere too fast.”

I nod in agreement, but I can’t shake the feeling that Bryan isn’t going to like this when he finds out, because he’s going to see it. It’s just a matter of when.

The phone rings. It’s Cecily again. She’s been trying to get me invited to some shindig in the city this weekend. I swipe the thing to life and press it to my ear. “Hello?”

Cecily squeaks, “Get your party dress out! We’re in. Everyone you need to cinch the deal will be there. Plus, I have you hooked up to present an award before the party that night. You need an evening gown and tell Neil to wear a tux.”

My stomach drops into my sneakers. “Present an award? Where?”

She’s excited, but I get the feeling that she’s done this a million times, and the excitement has more to do with landing a deal than with the party. “Oh, it’s no big deal honey, but it’ll get you extra press. You just read the lines off a little prompter screen and step out of the way. Easy peasy.” Cecily makes it sound minor, but it’s not.

“This a televised event?”

“Of course!”

“I can’t do that. Cecily—”

“Neil said you might do this. Listen, Hallie, it’s time to put on your big girl panties. This one little thing will get you instant exposure. As it is, everyone thinks you’re the sweetest thing they’ve ever seen. You have mass appeal kid, and we need to get you in front of those cameras. The more people that know about you, the better.”

“Cecily, I can’t. I suck at public speaking.”

“It’s reading, kid. You can read.” Before I can tell her no again, she adds, “I’ll have a car pick you up at six. Wear a dark evening gown, nothing too showy. We want to play up your good girl vibe to contrast with the wicked version of you in the book. That’ll sell them and they’ll be eating out of our palms. You already have a couple of offers, but we want a full blown bidding war. This is the shot that changes everything.” Cecily is all about the money. She doesn’t get paid unless I get paid, and while a truck load of money sounds great, I’d rather die than step out on stage.

Before I can say no, she hangs up. I make an aggravated sound in the back of my throat and stare at my phone. I don’t think I like her very much, at the same time, a shove might be what I need to get my butt in gear. “That was my agent. She wants me to announce the winner at a televised awards show tonight and then go to the banquet after.”

Maggie can tell that I don’t want to go. I hate crowds, I hate everything about it. “What are you going to do? I know this isn’t your thing, Hallie, but are you really going to pass this up?”

“I don’t even have a dress. How am I supposed to do this? How am I supposed to pay for this?”

Before I can look up, Maggie is in her purse. She fishes out a wad of cash. “How much do we need?”

“Where’d you get that?” I gape, and then narrow my gaze in on her hand.

“It’s mine, and what’s mine is yours.”

“I can’t take your money.”

“Uh, but you can borrow it. Borrowing is totally allowed. We can hit the sales rack and I can do your hair and make-up. You’ll look awesome.” She beams at me and stomps her foot. “Come on Hallie. Let me do this for you. You always help me. It’s my turn to repay the favor. Come on.” She says the last two words over and over again until I cave in and say yes.


Heart pounding hard, I smooth my hair and fuss with the skirt on my gown. It’s modest, to the ankle, with a little flare at the hem. My bodice isn’t revealing. Nothing about me screams vixen, except the book I’ve written. The press has had a fun time taking pictures of me from my Facebook page and sticking them next to my book. One title read: Good girl writes heartfelt story about naughty nights. Yeah, they left out the part about death, but that doesn’t sell as well.

The way my stomach churns is making me queasy. A few moments ago, I thought I could do this. I thought that I could walk out onto the stage with my shy little smile and read the prompter. But now, I’m worried that my voice will warble and that I’ll trip and fall flat on my face. All the women here look so calm and graceful, but I’m close to hyperventilating. I don’t belong here.

Neil notices the way I’m twisting the little ring on my finger and staring blankly at the crowd from the side of the stage. I wait in darkness for them to call my name. Neil reaches for my hand and smiles kindly at me. “How are you still nervous? We’ve been over this. It’s all in your head.”

Flicking my gaze up fast makes me feel like I’m going to hurl. As sweet as Neil is, he doesn’t get it. Every announcement, every word of every presentation that’s about me makes my heart race for one reason and one reason alone. I’m a liar. It’s not about the public speaking part. Okay, it’s about that a little bit, but I’m a bad liar. What if something comes up and they find out it’s Bryan? What if someone knows?

Nodding, I agree with him. “I know.”

“We could talk it through. Maybe there’s a deeper issue at play?” Neil studies me, but my gaze remains locked on the microphone that’s standing in the center of the stage. Neil Scortz is attending graduate school to be a shrink, so that’s what he does with everything. He rarely offers comfort, rather, he wants to know what makes me feel the way I do in the first place. Well, I don’t need a psychoanalysis for that. I already know. I’m terrified that I’m going to be caught, that people will find out that I’m a fraud, especially Neil.

I tried to tell him before we came, but I couldn’t say it. Not when those big brown eyes met mine with such excitement. It’d be like kicking a puppy, so I kept the secret, and now I’m going to hurl on stage…and probably slip in it and land on my butt. That sounds like me.

I’m saved from answering him. The stage hand calls my name. Sucking in a deep breath, I straighten my shoulders, and walk out onto the stage with a plastic smile on my face. The crowd applauds as soon as they see me. Nerves shoot through my body as I focus on the podium. I just have to make it to that little thing, and read the screen. I can do this. I chant the phrase over and over again in my mind.

By the time I reach the lectern, the man announcing with me is also there, but he’s much more relaxed. I don’t realize who it is until I look up and see the bright grin on Bryan Ferro’s face. What the fuck?! He’s perfectly calm and doesn’t use the lectern to hide himself from the audience the way I do. I cling to the edges of the plastic like it’s a life vest and I’m drowning.

The screen is lit, prompting me to speak. There’s too much spit in my mouth, so I swallow hard and find that I’ve gone cotton mouthed. My eyes dart everywhere, trying to avoid his gaze. He has to know. Crap!

Bryan steps closer, and touches my back lightly as he says his lines. The entire time, my heart is thumping and panic is spreading through my body. I want to run, but I can’t. I’m stuck in the middle of the goddamn stage on live television.

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